Tom Clancy’s The Division Review
Back in 2012 when The Division debuted its original “gameplay” trailer at Ubisoft’s E3 press conference it left many stunned and rightfully so, an open world co-op third person shooter that not only looked incredible but fun as well. Fast forward to 2016 after a handful of delays and betas the division is finally here, but is it the game we all hoped for or is it another pre-rendered Watch_Dogs fiasco?
The Division takes place in New York City, specifically the lower half of Manhattan, as a weaponised version of the small pox virus has taken thousands of lives in an act of bioterrorism on Black Friday, spreading the virus through infected banknotes. You take control of a member of the Division, a government sleeper program designed to help restore order in cases of severe breakdown in the function of government. With Manhattan turned into a warzone filled with rioters, criminals, and PMC’s that have all laid claim to the city.
The story is a typical Tom Clancy affair that follows a member of the second wave of division troops, who is activated to replace the original wave who have all been killed or gone MIA. Storytelling here is done through a mix of cut scenes for major plot points and found footage/audio logs to flesh out the world. It’s a storytelling system that only works if you want it too, while some might cruse through aiming for the end game activities others will be treated to a story told from a number of perspectives, each with something worth listening too.
At first glance the game plays like your typical cover based third person shooter however the core experience here is the grind for better equipment more like a modern RPG with each armour item adding up to add damage output, max health or skill power. Each weapon can be modified with scopes, grips, skins etc. to help make the weapon feel your own and the cosmetic items give you control over things like jumpers and pants. That’s not to say that the third person gameplay is lacking, in fact the cover based shooting is done really well with the map design funnelling the flow of combat and forcing you to be weary of enemies attempting to flank.
In addition to the base looting and shooting the skill powers are a blast to use with each offering a specific tactical use or buff to teammates that becomes essential on higher levels. Skills range from a portable shield, a pulse scan for enemies and an automated turret that can be used to distract and flush out enemies. Each of these skills are earned by completing missions and small encounters spread across the map that give you credits to spend in the Base of Operations, a hub world that evolves with each upgrade you purchase. This persistent world improvement gives you a reason to push forward and feel like you’re making a difference in the world.
While The Division doesn’t come close to the original E3 presentation a number of effects still remain, the bullet damage to glass, the popping of tires and even the closing of car doors in cover remain. The game doesn’t look jaw dropping but it does achieve something that very few open world games do, it makes every inch of Manhattan feel detailed beyond belief. The map is incredibly dense and populated with things to do and items to collect making exploring a blast. A particular highlight are the ECHOs, a holographic recreation of events both pre and post infection showing interesting events, additional story details and paving the way for a type of side mission focusing on finding people of interest by using ECHOs.
All of this is achieved with little to no loading screens, with the only ones coming when you attempt to enter another person’s game world or fail a mission. The only problems I found where ones with rendering in other people’s game world, mainly textures becoming triangular jagged blurs that made the world a broken triangular nightmare, however it was fixed with a quick fast travel or a return to my game world. It’s not uncommon to see bugs like this especially in an open world game. All this when playing on the Xbox One version of the game, the visually inferior version, the PC version of the game is apparently much more detailed and fluid as usual.
When the max level has been reached after completing the campaign the end game activities kick in offering daily challenges and a new difficulty mode to appease the hardcode fans who want a serious challenge, while offering a new currency only for high end items. The challenging difficulty bumps all enemies two levels higher than the max and gives them all upgrades to the highest tier of enemy, thus creating more chance to get high end weapons and gear. This mode is only achievable with a dedicated coop effort that can be hard to achieve. Even one weak link and a 1-hour mission can turn into a 3+ hour marathon, a lesson I learnt the hard way. This would be dead in the water if it wasn’t for some seriously impressive technical effort from the networking team. Rarely does it feel like the game was seriously lagging even when playing with people playing on the eastern half of North America. Even on the odd occasion when the game booted a player back to the menus/crash to the dashboard, they were able to re-join to the exact spot they left from. It’s a welcome improvement that helped relieve the stress of high level play.
Also available is the dark zone a PVP area that mixes elements of PVP with PVE. While the difficulty is extremely high as anyone can kill you and steal your gear, the rewards are much greater with the best items only being available to buy at a certain level. The dark zone is in somewhat of a state of flux at the moment, while a major selling point of it is that you can go “rogue” and kill other players to steal their loot, the punishments for doing so are set so high at the moment that its simply not worth doing unless you like de-ranking or losing all your credits and resources. This can all be fixed in a patch, as I believe they will address soon, but it feels like they are hand holding newer players a bit too much. Getting killed by other players back stabbing you is frustrating but it should be there to give you a sense of risk of everyone. All in all, it’s a bit too soft at the moment and that needs to change if they want people to take it seriously as a reason to keep playing.
As a new IP fuelled by incredible levels of hype The Division faced a serious uphill battle to meet expectations and while they failed in a few areas here and there, mainly the dark zone and the odd graphical hiccup, the overall outcome is extremely successful. Not only does the division create a fantastic open world, it also brings with it solid shooting, great team play and impressive technical features that will hopefully become common place in modern gaming for years to come. It’s no Witcher 3: Wild Hunt but it’s a fantastic game that deserves your attention.
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